Dustin Lance Black: Pillars of Salt

5.24.2010

By Dustin Lance Black

This was Principessa Kennedy, Salt Lake City royalty. Born and raised in Salt Lake, Kennedy is the youngest of seven children from a devout Mormon family. 'Childhood was typical, except that I knew I was different,' she says. 'Not only in sexuality, but I have identified as female from my earliest memory.'

It took moving to San Francisco for her to find kindred spirits. 'I learned that I could be the person who I am, which is a trans.' One of the original Trannyshack queens, Kennedy has done shows with Pansy Division, the Scissor Sisters, and Cher, and yet here she is, back where it all started -- home. Now she writes for three mainstream newspapers in Salt Lake City. 'I'm impressed with how Salt Lake has grown since I left in '93. To accept my voice is incredible, but we still need outsider help. Salt Lake City Gay Pride is just around the corner, and I, for one, would love to see every gay in the nation here.'

SUNDANCE
Sunday came. Premiere day for 8: The Mormon Proposition, and I drove up the mountain and met the film's executive producer, Bruce Bastian. This is the man who for decades has generously funded almost everything LGBT in SLC -- and many other things beyond. From Williams's progressive radio show to Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center. At first, his story seems a common one here. A handsome, devout young Mormon man marries, but then comes out, decides to live openly, and is rejected by his church and family. But Bastian's story takes a brave turn. Unlike the vast majority of gay people in Utah, he didn't leave; he stayed to fight. He's been using his wallet and his mind to support LGBT activism both here and nationally ever since.

Bastian and I got out of the cold and joined the film's director inside the theater. The place was buzzing. We found our seats in the jam-packed audience, and right before the lights went down, so did San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, the man who sparked the modern LGBT marriage fight. So how gay was Utah all of a sudden? Very.

When the film ended and the credits rolled, there were audible tears and a three-minute standing ovation. A woman stood up and told the audience that she was a devout Latter-day Saints mother, and wanted everyone there to know that not all Mormons hate gay people, that in fact, many, many of them love gay people and believe they deserve equal rights.

The applause was thunderous. But I was happy for another, more personal reason. I grew up Mormon. I still have Mormon family, and I know that all Mormon people don't feel the same way about gay people as the leadership of the church. I was moved that this woman had the courage to let her dissent be heard.

Afterward, though, I got the cold shower I had been afraid of. At a discussion panel, a leader of a national LGBT organization disparaged the contribution of our young and burgeoning grass roots movement. They don't really show up, he said. They don't really do anything. And I was reminded of Brandie Balken's final thoughts at our Red Iguana dinner: 'There are a million voices within the LGBT community, and there's a place for each one. I think that's the thing that's helped us shimmy forward.'

I was ready to get back to Salt Lake City for one last night.

Williams picked me up, and we headed to the state capital building. An LGBT equality rally was scheduled to take place in the giant rotunda. As I walked in, I was impressed by the size of the crowd. It filled the grand space, but more than that, a quick look revealed transgender people, African-Americans, radical queers, conservative gays, a punk kid sitting next to an affluent, suited member of the local Human Rights Campaign, butch dykes sitting next to hungry twinks. The people in the room crossed all barriers of class, gender, and race.

Williams read my grin right off. 'Never underestimate the power of Mormons to bring people together. Utah queers are tight.'

And what I took away from it was that all the talk I heard at the Red Iguana two nights earlier was not just hot air. There truly was something special going on here in Salt Lake City. Something unique. It looked to me like collaboration.

LOOKING BACK
I checked my luggage at the airport, but I didn't want to go. I wanted to be there when other municipalities finally start passing similar equal protection ordinances. I wanted to be there to watch Equality Utah make inroads into communities we never could have anticipated a year ago, to see the Pride Center's Family Acceptance Program put into action so Mormon kids won't get thrown out of their homes when they come out, and to see Jim Dabakis's dream of a Mormon-funded youth homeless shelter become a reality for all of those who do.

So as my plane took off and I looked back out my window, I had a very different feeling in my heart. I got the feeling that the groups here in SLC are putting into action what many of the national organizations haven't even figured out yet'that the infighting must stop, and coordination and cooperation must begin. That we must harness the energy of the young grassroots and the wisdom of our established organizations and reach out to those who fight against us the hardest. We must introduce ourselves, communicate, and make cracks in their long held homophobic policies.

And as the city grew smaller outside my window I thought, Damn it, Principessa Kennedy was right. I, too, want to see 10,000 LGBT people jam Salt Lake City's 2010 Gay Pride with their support, their sweat, their tears, their voices, and their love.

8: The Mormon Proposition is in theaters nationwide June 18.

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